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No more appeasement, West must push China to democracy

By Chin Jin - posted Thursday, 22 May 2008


The West made a strategic error in adopting different approaches to the Soviet Union and communist China. Ronald Reagan identified the Soviet Union as an evil empire and accelerated the arms race with the Star Wars program, thus bogging down the Soviet Union's fragile economy, which led to its eventual defeat. At that time, China was still played as the "China card" to reinforce US strength against the "evil empire".

The West assumed China was developing into a friendly economy and dropped its guard. This was a big mistake.

China has the same capacity as the Soviet Union did to become a formidable foe of Western democracies. China has been allowed to strengthen its power in a clandestine way under the guise of a "peaceful rise". Its power has infiltrated the world and is now much more difficult to address.

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For Bill Clinton, China was a "strategic partner". For George Bush it has been a "strategic competitor". I believe both of these classifications are wrong. China is, ideologically, diametrically opposed to democracy.

International economies are swarming to China to compete for its huge market and their governments are rushing to appease the repressive Chinese leadership - all for the price of a trade dollar. Those eager to do business in China may believe the country is changing and their trade and investment are helping to bring political liberalisation.

But as the Olympic Games in Beijing approach, China has jailed two human rights activists, Hu Jia and Yang Chunlin, and suppressed the peaceful protest of monks in Tibet by force.

China retains the repressive, undemocratic nature of a one-party political system, and this situation needs to be re-evaluated as a potential threat to international stability and security. Western democracies, headed by the US, must create a sound global vision, identify their objectives for the coming century and develop a strategy to prevent the unexpected happening.

What will the world face once China has completed its "peaceful rise"?

China will have become an important world economic and military power, and it will still operate as an unaccountable repressive regime that does not respect human rights and democratic values.

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Using the 1988 Seoul Olympics as a model, the International Olympic Committee awarded China this year's Olympic Games, giving it a chance to improve itself. The 1988 Games were regarded as the impetus for South Korea to take its first step on the road to democracy. But South Korea is not China.

South Korea was responsive to international political pressure, and it has advanced accordingly. China is obstinate and resilient to international criticism, and does not relent in its uncompromising policies.

China's Olympic bid was also politically motivated, allowing it to cement its reputation as an emerging economic and political powerhouse and to showcase Beijing as a world-class capital city. At home, the Communist government can point to this international recognition to legitimise the regime.

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First published in The Sydney Morning Herald on May 20, 2008. This article is based on a debate which can be seen here.



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About the Author

Chin Jin is an M.A. graduate of the University of Western Sydney and Chair of the Federation For A Democratic China, Australia.

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All articles by Chin Jin

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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